“McNamara’s Folly”: How LBJ’s administration drafted low-IQ and other disabled men to protect student deferments, during the Vietnam War

Much of my own first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book (1997) played off the moral dichotomy of the Vietnam era draft, where college students by and large could be deferred (until 1969), with the particularly iconoclastic arguments of those who objected to allowing gays to serve in the military when President Bill Clinton proposed to do so in 1993. Much of Chapter 2 had dealt with the male-only conscription of the time, as did a fiction “story” (actually a chapter from an unpublished early novel “The Proles”, actually cursively handwritten as I lived in the barracks in 1969) in DADT III (2014).

Now there is a book by former Associated Press writer, Hamilton Gregory, with a very long title and subtitle: “McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low -IQ Troops in the Vietnam War, plus the Induction of Unfit Men, Criminals, and Misfits”.

The narrative components include a summary of what the Folly was, with analysis of the moral dilemmas, many specific case histories, and, in the opening chapters, Gregory’s own experience when “enlisting” in 1967.  As a reviewer, I need to compare this with my own experiences.

The backcover of the paperback (e-book is also available) summarizes the Folly.  In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson and his dapper smart boy Robert McNamara, realized they could not draft enough men to support the war in Vietnam, without ending college deferments.  They had already ended most marriage and family-based deferments at one time proposed by Kennedy. They feared loss of popularity with middle class voters (and we can look ahead to see that Nixon actually took some credit for stopping the draft in 1973).  So McNamara came up with Project 100,000, implemented October 1, 1966, allowing the induction of lower-IQ men.  These men were given the uncomplementary group name “McNamara’s Morons”.   They also allowed the induction of men with various other quasi-medical problems and sometimes criminal histories.

Complicating this setup was the reality that many men enlisted to avoid exposure to combat arms and get an MOS of their choice, in exchange for longer enlistment terms.   Gregory himself went into military intelligence (as did a chess playing friend of mine at GWU, who wrote often after he joined in 1967). But low-IQ men often flunked the AIT and would wind up in infantry anyway. And Gregory analyzes many situations where lack of mental ability exposed men to increased risk of death and maiming on the battlefield, as well as endangering others in their unit. (Nevertheless one such man won a silver star for saving his lieutenant’s life by hovering over him in battle after leg wounding.)  Gregory gives particularly graphic explanations of “walking point” when on infantry patrols, usually every third night.

Obviously, as I argued in my own book, this poses multiple moral problems. The worst seems to be that, barely twenty years after defeating Hitler, we were implementing an Orwellian system that declared that some men’s lives were more valuable to protect than others.  Indeed, McNamara was said to be committing a crime against the intellectually disabled.  We also have the karma of some men living off the sacrifices of others, if you accept the Domino Theory that ground troops in SE Asia were necessary to halt Communism and eventual nuclear threat (all of this got covered in Ken Burns’s series “The Vietnam War” on PBS).

A flip side of the argument was that McNamara and his Nightbreed minions argued that military service would be a way to give the less well-off skills they could use in civilian life later (if they only could survive combat). McNamara even said that intellectual skills could be raised with “video tapes”.

The book starts with Hamilton’s own experience in Basic Combat Training. When he was going through processing in Tennessee, a sergeant asked for all the college grads to speak up.  He wound up being responsible for one of McNamara’s Morons through training, which was, obviously, very difficult. He would eventually collapse from heat stroke on a march, and wind up being recycled through Special Training Company.  This is the first time I’ve encountered Special Training Company mentioned in a book or movie, other than my own book(s).

At this point, a comparison with my own experience at Fort Jackson, SC starting in February 1968 is in order.  First, I had failed the physical twice (4-F in 1964, 1-Y in 1966) as a result of my own pseudo-psychiatric history over “latent homosexuality”. According to my own DADT-1 book (pp 66-67) the Armed Forces questionnaire had asked about “homosexual tendencies” in 1964 but had dropped the question in 1966.  So, in a sense, an informal “don’t ask don’t tell” was in effect because the Army needed the   I note that I didn’t see any discussion of gays in the military in the book;  I would have expected to find it.

I had requested retesting twice because, according to the values of the time, my own reputation had been damaged.  In August 1967 I was retested and found to be 1-A.  Very few people had gone from 4-F to 1-A (although J. D. Salinger – “The Catcher in the Rye”, had). By 1967, as Gregory notes, the Army (and even Marine Corps, which was drafting) seemed to be trying to take everyone.

I did answer an affirmative on a request for college grads when I arrived at the Fort Jackson Reception Station, but the only consequence was my supervising a printing operation for about 30 minutes before we were sent through chow.  That’s ironic, that 30 years later I’d be printing my own book. Later the subject came up favorably in the MOS interview.  I had enlisted for two years (“RA11937256”) two weeks before my induction date (very few people knew you could do that) and it seemed to work.

I failed the PCPT in the second week of BCT (the fireman’s carry had replaced the grenade throw), with a score of 190.  I was too thin and “weak” (although thin people can be very strong;  a quick look at some Major League Baseball, and basketball, players shows that).  I caught the flu during the end of the third week (on the first day of rifle range), and spend four days in the infirmary. When I came back, I was told I would be shipped to Special Training Company in a private meeting with the Captain after chow.

I spent three weeks there, but passed the PCPT with a 318 on the third try. The first week was actually “G-3” stuff, but I went into PT platoon the second week.  We were housed in tents, but the training was not as bad as in Gregory’s book (there were no log carries). While I was there, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and we were supposedly on “red alert”.  I would pass the PCPT with a 357 on the final with my second company, and I believe I scored near 100% on the G-3, which was graded very easy.   I then was safely assigned to the Pentagon as an “01E20” (mathematician) and was shielded from combat because of my graduate degree in math.  The rest of my story is in my books and blogs.

Conditions at Fort Jackson were not quite as brutal as at Benning (I remember many trainees from the Reception Station went to Gordon).  Lights out was at 9:30 PM and reveille was a 5:30. It’s true, on Sundays (unless you had KP) the chapel was a bit of the sanctuary. I played the organ (some music from the last movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony) by ear as a postlude for a service.

Gregory mentions another book: On p. 129, “Moron Corps“, by John L. Ward (Strategic Book Publishing), which I have just ordered on Amazon.

I tried the AFQT test in the appendix and actually missed the last spatial question (I got 10/11 or 91%).

This book appears to be self-published, but it sounds like something that today Milo Yiannopoulos with his “Dangerous” books might have considered.

I think this material lends itself to documentary film, like a PBS Independent Lens piece.  There is an hour long “amateur” video film, “McNamara’s Morons”  by Bill Dixon on YouTube which I reviewed here.

I would mention here a rather obscure Supreme Court ruling from 1981, Rostker v Goldberg (after the draft had ended, but was threatened again by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), accepting the constitutionality of the male-only draft. However, there have been some bills in Congress requiring women to register for Selective Service, just as there are others seeking to abolish registration.  See the table here after note 48b on the history of Selective Service deferments (Kennedy fathers, etc) from the notes on my own DADT-1 book.

Hamilton Gregory has an interview on “History Net” where he says he is working on a book asking whether we should bring back the military draft. (Again: “Milo-Dangerous”).  Right after 9/11, Northwestern University’s Charles Moskos, an “author” of Clinton’s “don’t ask don’t tell” wrote in favor of resuming the draft and dropping his own DADT.  Gregory also notes that the “Stop-Loss” policy in the Bush years with the volunteer military in Iraq amounted to a backdoor draft of less able men.

The author offers a note in the beginning about the use of certain terms common in previous generations but now seen as denigrating (or “dangerous”) to some people with disabilities, as Trump is finding out.

Author: Hamilton Gregory
Title, Subtitle: “McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War, plus the Introduction of Unfit Men, Criminals, and Misfits”
publication date 2015
ISBN 978-1-4958-0548-6
Publication: Infinity Publishing (appears to be self), paper, 251 pages, six parts, 41 short chapters, indexed, prologue (roman)
Link: another review

(Posted: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at 11:30 AM)

“The Thinning”: Logan Paul plays undercover hero in a fascist America “made great again” by executing “parasites”

The Thinning” (2016), directed by Michael Gallagher, from Legendary Digital Studios (usually connected to Warner Brothers) specifically for You Tube Red original films, gets attention now as lead actor Logan Paul, who plays the hero teen Blake Redding, drew negative attention recently for a suicide-related video he posted.  That has been said to complicate the production of the sequel, but we’ll all that aside for another time.

The point of the film seems shocking, beyond satire. In 2039 in Austin Texas, a Vista Pointe High School is part prison camp, as every year the kids have to pass a test on an iPad tablet. Those who fail are executed, removed from society.  This is America’s answer to the world population problem exacerbated by runaway global warming.

Some people might say now that such a film puts the idea of doing something like this in play.  That’s the thinking of the trigger warning crowd. But the film has plenty of precedents: the entire “The Hunger Games” franchise, and the 2000 Japanese thriller “Battle Royale”.

Blake is the Governor Redding’s (Matthew Glave) son, and Glave is running for president on continuing to Make America Great Again.  Although the film was apparently shot before Trump’s election victory, it is clearly intended to send a message that we’re headed for Nazi-Germany style fascism, where the weak are eliminated.  In a speech where Redding announces his candidacy, he calls failing students “parasites” whom we “wash out”.  But at the end of the movie he makes a similarly sickening speech where he honor’s the kids’ sacrifice for the Common Good, like the new Soviet Man.  Funny how fascism and communism can join together.

Of course, the film has to become a stereotyped B-movie thriller at some point. Predictably, after Blake loses his girl friend Ellie (Lia Marie Johnson) to the thinning and protests (and isn’t prosecuted because he’s the governor’s son), Blake decides really challenge the system next year and deliberately fails.  Nevertheless, he is selected to pass, whereas tutor Laina (Peyton List) fails in his place. The kids arrange a diversion, with a power failure and some chase sequences as the school is shut down and the scandal exposed.  It’s interesting that at the beginning we learn that Laina had been helping mediocre students cheat by selling them special Google contact lenses to pay for medical treatments for her mother.  (Health care?  Obamacare?)  At the end, we learn what really happens to the failing kids.  Blake is still very much alive and undercover.

I have to say that Logan Paul (who grew up in Ohio) has a spectacular, even perfect, bod on camera.

I’m not personally a fan of the “rotten apples” theory of pulling work by artists because of their “sins” that come to light.

The idea of “ranking and yanking” employees has been common in business.  Furthermore, the idea of doing this to kids reminds me of the Vietnam era draft, student deferments, and the whole “McNamara’s Morons” issue which I’ll take up soon in a book review.

(Picture: Austin, TX, my visit, Nov. 2011)

Name:  “The Thinning”
Director, writer:  Michael Gallagher
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Home, purchase on YouTube for $4.99 HD
Length:  82
Rating:  NA (PG-13 or soft R)
Companies:  YouTube Red, Legendary Digital, Cinemand (Cinedigm?)
Link:  official

Posted: Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 11:15 AM.

“The Zookeeper’s Wife”: a story of resistance against Nazis seems timely now

The Zookeeper’s Wife”, directed by Niki Caro and written by Angela Workman, is another story of local resistance to Nazi occupation, and of the moral dilemmas people face when a foreign enemy knocks on the door.  Th film is based on the non-fiction book by Diane Ackerman.

As the film opens, Jan Zabiniski (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife Antonina (Jessica Chastain) run the bucolic zoo in Warsaw in the late summer of 1939.  Antonina makes a great show of greeting visitors, and the animals have the run of their lives.  One night she interrupts a party to help an elephant deliver a baby (that is, bring the baby to life).

On September 1, 1939, the Nazi Blitzkrieg arrives with sudden aerial bombardment. Animals escape and the family has to prepare to endure.  But the Nazi zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) draws her into a discussion of saving the zoo by using it as a breeding farm.  Externally, there is a lot of talk about the Nazis as legitimate permanent political authority, that will persist “when the war is over”.

But soon the family’s Jewish friends take shelter in own their property, out of sight of the Nazis.  One of them has an insect collection, and kids draw “cave art” with fingerpainting in the basement.  The city is divided into “free” and ghetto.  Then the Jews are transported East and the ghetto is torched. Eventually the family secretly shelters over 300 people.

The film traces the family through all of World War II until the Soviets take over occupation after the end of the war.

The film may seem politically relevant today, as some faith-based groups resist the new anti-immigration crackdown by providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants in the U,S.

I visited Warsaw for one day in May 1999, having ridden the train north from Krakow, where I had visited Auschwistz-Birkenau for one day.

The film was actually shot around Prague.

Warsaw today, Wiki.

Warsaw war ruins, Wiki.

Name:  “The Zookeeper’s Wife”
Director, writer:  Niki Caro
Released:  2017/3/30
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, sneak, late 2017/3/30, sparse attenance
Length:  124
Rating:  R
Companies:  Focus Features
Link:  official

(Picture: Washington DC zoo, lion area, Feb. 2017)

(Posted: Friday, March 31, 2017 at 11 AM EST)


“Land of Mine”: Allies treat German teenage prisoners of war as personally responsible for what Hitler made them do

Land of Mine”, as a title in English, is a pun; the original title of this film by Martin Zandvliet is “Under Sand” (“Unter dem Sand”  or “Under Sandet”) tells us more, that this is a movie centered around landmines buried “On the Beach”.

In May 1945, just about the time that German surrenders, Danish NCO Sgt, Carl Ramussen (Roland Moller) is tasked by Allied lieutenant Ebbe (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) to supervise a task of captured German POW’s to low-crawl the beach and defuse every landmine with a careful procedure. The Germans had apparently expected D-Day on the Danish coast.

The prisoners are mostly teenage boys (they look young and physically vulnerable, even fungible) , and they are forced to work without food for a long time, and locked into their barracks a night, not even able to pee.  Ramussen says he is not their friend, and that he doesn’t care about them personally.

But what seems even more remarkable is that he talks as if he (and all the other Danes) hold the boys personally, each and every one, responsible for what the Germans (that is, Hitler) did. The treatment of the boys would violate the Geneva convention.

In time, there are casualties and death.  It’s horrible.  But the boys have maps, and one of the boys invents a tool to help find the mines faster.  The boys have been promised they can go home to Germany after they finish.

But when Ebbe returns, the Sergeant has finally started to have some empathy for the boys.  When Ebbe insists on keeping the survivors (after a horrible “accident” which may have been set up) the Sergeant has, for him, an unprecedented moral dilemma.

The film was nominated for best foreign language film at the Oscars.

Info Table:

Name:  “Land of Mine”
Director, writer:  Martin Zandvliet
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Cinema Arts Fairfax, 2017/3/11, afternoon, large audience (theater remodeled with reclining seats and digital projection)
Length:  100
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sony Pictures Classics
Link:  official

(Picture: Ocean City, MD, mine, 2010)

(Posted: Saturday, March 11, 2017 at 6:30 PM EST)

“No More Heroes”: Jordan Flaherty argues for mass movements and against individual right-sizing; saviors think they are better than the people they help

Remember how all the episodes of “Smallville” on WB started with Remy Zero’s song “save Me?”, back starting around 2001? (just before 9/11).  For years we were treated a cleancut extraterrestrial-born and alien but very attractively human teenager Clark Kent using his “powers” (manipulating space-time around himself as if he were an Alcubierre drive) to save people.  And except when influenced by red kryptonite, he was always a great person, almost Christ-like, an angel.  And he is European-white (although one of his best friends, in whom he first confided that he is an alien, as if he were “coming out”, is black).

Or, more recently, in 2012, I watch a short film video at a local church of teenager running a mission at Double Head Cabbage in Belize.  A tall blond high school teen, who looks like he could toss no-hitters now for the Washington Nationals, lets kids, mostly of color, climb all over him.  This is an experience in bonding with people who look “different’ from you and are maybe less fortunate, at least economically and with infrastructure.  The intimacy in the film is rather unprecedented.  It belongs in DC Shorts (a short film festival), I tell them.

Or, in September 2015, at a National Book Festival sponsored by the Smithsonian at the Washington DC Convention Center, journalist Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn present their books “A Path Appears” (also a video series) about how to help people, both in rural Appalachia and in Africa.  Kirtof also promotes a video, KONY, about a Ugandan warlord.

So now we have this book by Jordan Flaherty, “No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality”, challenging the whole premise of global do-goodism, that you can make your karma better by volunteering to help others, on your terms, when you get to look good and impress the people you help that you’re really better than them:  you’re richer (like Trump, or Zuckerberg, or Bill and Melinda Gates), whiter, taller, bigger, stronger, smarter, have a higher IQ, more gifted, more desirable.  You get to rule the world.  “They” do as you say.  Of course, you’ll be benevolent.  You’ll take care of everybody.  As Trump says now, everybody can buy insurance again, because I say so.  (I don’t think Trump had better try to deport real aliens.)

Flaherty loads up his book, especially the first eight chapters, with examples of self-serving “generosity”, going back to European colonialism and US manifest destiny, even the “we are the world” globalism of the 80s. He quickly gets to the topic of nearly mandatory volunteerism, as when (p. 25) he mentions George W. Bush’s call for every American to commit to two years, or 4000 clock hours during the rest of your life, to community service.  (I also remember Bush’s saying at Ohio State about that time, a person without responsibility for others is truly alone).   Some of his most telling examples center around New Orleans after Katrina (and even New York after Sandy), both with the ineffectiveness of hit-or-miss volunteer trips, and with the pretentiousness of Teach for America.  I was rather shocked at the degree to which teachers had to deal with the most intimate aspects of kids’ lives.

We tend to talk about “giving back” as something to get our karma right, become right-sized, and go back to feeling we individually “deserve” what we have.  It’s as if life was about getting a grade or accumulating non-monetary “life points” (a term killer James Holmes actually used).  Authoritarian politicians can easily take advantage of this idea.

In fact, consider Maoism in the 1960s. where Communist China forced intellectuals to “take their turns” becoming peasants.  I can remember those on the Left in the early 1970s (like the People’s Party of New Jersey) who used this example to argue that Chinese Communism was ideologically purer than Soviet style.

Flaherty wants us to realize that, as pastor Rick Warren argues in “The Purpose-Driven Life”, that it “isn’t about you.”  (He doesn’t mention Warren, but he should.)  It’s about your tribe, your team, well, no, its about the people, your mass movement.  He wants people to join up, become like Eric Hoffer’s True Believers. The mass movements will make things right for your group, especially if you’re among “people of color” or, less often, LGBTQ (or maybe both).

He traces the history of the Occupy movement (which Steven Bannon trashed in a 2012 film, reviewed here Jan. 9, “Occupy Unmasked”). He builds up Black Lives Matter (without mentioning the factual problems particularly with Michael Brown’s narrative that led to Ferguson) and takes the usual offense at “all lives matter” which is actually more demanding than it sounds.

Flaherty, when describing how to “change” (and shake off the moral liability if inherited privilege) says, “Instead of shaming people for their mistakes .. .appreciate and lift up principled action when you see it.” (Catalyst Poject).  Then, “This transformation demands moving from individual focus to collective action. Instead of asking ‘How can I be the single best white antiracist activist with the sharpest critique, most specialized language and busiest schedule?’ ask ‘How can I find ways to bring more and more people to social justice work, from lots of entry points, to grow vibrant mass movements?’” In other words, win converts, not just win arguments.  In fact, recruit people.  Pester them until the sign up. Well, there’s a contradiction in that, because that sounds like trying to save them.

I do recall a time at an MCC campfire in June 1979 in Texas when a particular guy into saving souls put his arm around me in a prayer and considered me one less able than others as someone special who needed saving.  Wow.

Clark Kent, in Smallville, used to say, I’m not special, I’m just different.  But Clark didn’t try to create a mass movement. But he didn’t need to.

Curiously, Flaherty poohs traditional efforts at gay equality, like gay marriage and the “right” to serve openly in the military (e.g. oppose “don’t ask don’t tell”) as accommodating “neoliberal violence”, by emphasizing individual station in life as the most important political objective.

But once the “people” get control with their mass movement, what kind of a world do they forge?  Without individual egos and meritocracy, people don’t accomplish much.  Flahety would have people surrendering all and living in moneyless or shared income intentional communities, maybe after a period of revolution, expropriation and collective moral purification.  It’s true that people who have the most to lose will take the fewest or smallest risks for changes that benefit others, but they may also take the least risks in stepping up in individual circumstances (as in Chapter 6 of my DADT-III book).  That’s the “Rich Young Ruler Problem”.

Author: Jordan Flaherty
Title, Subtitle: “No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality”
publication date: 2016
ISBN 978-1-84935-266-6
Publication: AK Press, Baltimore; 248 pages, paper (e), 11 Chapters, endnotes, indexed
Link:  author site

(Posted: Monday, January 16, 2017 at 11:45 PM EST)

“Labyrinth of Lies”: idealistic young prosecutor in 1958 brings “ordinary people” to justice in West Germany for having supported Nazis


Name: “Labyrinth of Lies”
Director, writer:  Giulio Ricciarelli
Released:  2014
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: Netlix DVD
Length 124
Rating R   (language: German)
Companies: Sony Pictures Classics, Universal International,
Link: official

The German drama “Labyrinth of Lies” (“Im Labyrinth des Schweigens”), directed by Giulio Ricciarelli, and written with Elisabeth Bartel, shows how the pre-unification Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) got into the game of prosecuting “ordinary people” who had turned out to be complicit Nazi War criminals, after the Nuremberg trials.

The narrative is seen through a 28-year-old prosecutor, and handsome and perfect “Aryan” Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling), who has attracted attention of a reporter for prosecuting ordinary traffic and misdemeanor cases vigorously.  He has at the same time wanted go to after a teacher who had been part of the SS and isn’t supposed to be allowed to teach, but authorities look the other way.  The reporter starts educating him on Auschwitz, which in 1958 still few Germans really understood.  He tries to learn about it at a public library, and finds that it will take eight weeks to get a book on the topic.  That’s how slow information flow could be four decades before the Internet (remember interlibrary loans?)

Gradually Radmann’s boss Fritz Bauer (Gert Voss – Bauer is the subject also of “The People v. Fritz Bauer”)) becomes more supportive, and Radmann becomes involved in the search for Josef Mengele and eventually Adolf Eichmann.  Along the way, at the film’s exact middle, he gets seduced by a seamstress. Marlene (Frederike Becht).  That leads him to a personal crisis, the discovery that his own father had been active with the Nazis. The film eventually ends with start of a trial of hundreds of former Auschwitz workers.

The film waterskiis over the question of whether ordinary citizens should be prosecuted for crimes they are ordered to commit by their leadership.

My own first visit to “West Germany” happened in the summer of 1972, when I arrived in Frankfurt.  The train to Hamburg came within sight distance of the East German border.  In those days, people stayed in hostels without private bathrooms when traveling.  I revisited in 1999, and visited Berlin and Dresden.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Frankfurt skyline by Eli Beckman, CCSA International 4.0.

(Posted: Friday, September 30, 2016 at 11:15 AM EDT)